Louise O’Neill: 14 things not to say to the writer in your life

Louise O'Neill sacrificed a lot while writing her first book. Here's her list of the the 14 things you should never say to a published author.

I’m not sure how I expected to be treated by my friends and family once I published my first novel but I didn’t think they would all have the audacity to treat me like some kind of ‘normal’.

What was the point of all the hard work and sacrifices – I gave up alcohol and boys for an entire year and those are basically my two favourite things in life – if people didn’t understand that they should throw themselves at my feet, praising my genius?

Besides the lack of adoration and constant reassurance that any self-respecting creative person requires on a daily basis (why, yes I am single. How did you guess?), sometimes it feels like people are actively trying to insult me. Just in case I meet any of you in the future, I’ve decided to make a list of things NOT to say to an author.

READ MORE: How Louise O’Neill found her voice as a young author .  

1. Do people still read? I read an article saying that most bookstores would be closed down by 2020.

Thank you for telling me that my chosen career is dying on its feet. Excuse me while I go learn Latin and play with my super-cool Walkman.

2. I would love to write a book but I don’t have time. I’m just so busy.

It’s fortunate that my life is so empty and that I have all these hours to fill up, I guess. Tell me again what happened in the entire season of Breaking Bad that you binge-watched last night?

3. I can’t wait to read your book! Once my mother is finished I’m going to borrow her copy/I’m on the waiting list at the library for it.

I count my local librarians as close personal friends at this stage but NEVER say this to me again. I lied when I said I had hay fever, those were tears in my eyes as I contemplated the fact that I might still be living with my parents by the time I turn 50. My book costs less than €10. Suck it up and buy your own copy, you monster.

4. What a lovely, easy job writing must be. You’re so lucky!

Writing is easy. As someone much more eloquent than I said, “you simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

5. Which of your characters is based on you?

None of them. It’s fiction. You know, made up? Pretend? Do I need to explain to you how writing works?

6. What are the sales like? How many books have you sold?

Oh, we’re doing this, are we? Ok babes, take a seat. How much do you earn a year? How much tax do you pay? Do you get a bonus? How much of that is take-home pay? How much money is in your bank account RIGHT NOW?

7. You write books for young adults, is it? Do you think you will ever write proper books?

JK Rowling, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, C.S Lewis, Judy Blume, and Philip Pullman all wrote books for children and young adults. Do you think they should have written ‘proper’ books?

And of course I’m not comparing myself to CS Lewis. That would be ridiculous! (Although you’re most welcome to do so. If you want.)

8. I have the best idea for a book if you want to use it/You should write about my life story.

I am so glad that I met you today! I’m sure I’ll be even more delighted in five years time when you’re suing me for an equal share in the royalties.

9. Did you hear that other fella got shortlisted for the Booker prize. How come you didn’t?

Yes, it is unfortunate that I didn’t get long-listed for the Booker when David Mitchell did. It’s even more unfortunate that the best writer in the English language just happens to live a few miles out the road, stealing all my goddamn thunder. I’ve sent him emails detailing the beauty of the Connemara coastline but no luck yet...

10. Why haven’t you been on The Late Late Show?

I would love to be on The Late Late Show. I have offered Tubridy a kidney and/or my first born child but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in either.

11. That photo of you in the newspaper was beautiful (pause). You should wear makeup more often.

I am aware that with my hair and makeup professionally done, excellent lighting and a skilled photographer than I can indeed look passably attractive. Thank you for telling me this at the farmer’s market when I haven’t washed my hair in three days and resemble a cross between Worzel Gummidge and Onslow from Keeping Up The Appearances.

12. What’s your next book about? When will it be published?

I’m going to wait until you have a baby. Then, when you’re still in the delivery room, umbilical cord about to be cut, I’m going to sneak in, ninja style, and ask you when you’re thinking of popping another kid out.

It’s a long game but one I’m prepared to play.

13. I’ll tell you what I think of your book after I’ve read it!

And I’ll come down to your workplace tomorrow and give you marks out of 10 on your job performance. (Unless you thought it was a masterpiece. In that case, talk away.)

14. I don’t like reading.

Go away. We have nothing in common.

Louise O’ Neill is from Clonakilty. Her novel, Only Ever Yours, won the Newcomer of the Year at the 2014 Irish Book Awards and the YA Book Prize 2015.

Aida Austin returns next week

READ MORE: How Louise O’Neill found her voice as a young author .  


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